Virtual Reality, or VR for short, has come a long way in the last ten years. Gone are the days of commercial flops like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, or the need for huge bulky arcade machines to contain the vast processing powers needed to play them.
No, the modern wave of Virtual reality, spearheaded by wonder machines like the Oculus Rift, are small, sleek, powerful, and most importantly, are here to stay.
With the growth of the VR gaming industry set to continue for the rest of the decade, you can expect to see all kinds of wonders pop up in a virtual world in your own home in the next few years.
And with this new wave of gaming technology, inevitably comes games to play them with.
Some, like the ports of older games like Fallout and Skyrim, are novel ways to enjoy your favorite classics. Others, like Beat Saber, are designed to make full use of the experiences that VR can bring, like full-body motion, and immersion in a whole new world.
Of this new genre of games to sink your teeth into, one of the strangest that is fast gaining traction in the online world has to be the virtual social game VRChat.
What Is VRChat?
To call it a game is a little misleading; It might be better to think of VRChat as more like a social platform, like Facebook, Discord, or Twitch, where players can communicate and meet in servers or groups with other people.
The unique thing about VRChat and games similar to it is that players interact with the virtual world and other people, in one of the thousands of player-created worlds, through a player-controlled avatar, a character model you control.
A player-avatar can be anything: A digital version of yourself, a random animate or inanimate object, or even a character from popular culture. There’s something very surreal about sitting at a virtual bar and having a conversation with Mario and Darth Vader sitting right next to each other like they’re old buddies.
That’s another aspect that VRChat focuses on Finding and meeting new people. Whilst there are plenty of activities to do in the many different worlds of VRChat, the biggest element of VRChat is the ability to meet complete strangers from across the world, and just strike up conversations with them in a safe environment.
That can seem like quite a novel concept, but for many people who struggle with interacting with people in the real world, especially people they know nothing about, the anonymity and security that VRChat gives with its ‘trust levels’ to block out unwanted experiences, can give people the confidence to talk to people without the worry and anxiety of face-to-face meetings.
And since the beginning of 2020, when meeting new people suddenly became a rather difficult thing to do, VRChat has filled that niche nicely for many. Many social events are now organized and attended across many of VRChat’s worlds, all from the comfort of your own home.
Do You Need A VR Headset To Play VRChat?
As the name suggests, a lot of the game is tailored around using VR headsets and controllers, such as looking around by turning your head, grabbing objects with your controller hands, using the controllers to gesture and move like you would in real life.
With these features being such a large part of the VRChat experience, it has led to a misconception that you need a VR headset to play in the game.
But surprisingly, for a game that has VR in its title, the answer is no, you don’t need any VR gear set up! Just your trusty computer, your keyboard, and a mouse.
Whilst a lot of fun features in the game are based around using your VR headsets and controllers, VRChat comes with a feature known as ‘desktop mode’, where you can control your player character through a traditional gaming setup, like a keyboard and mouse, or even a game-controller/gamepad.
When starting the program, simply click the open ‘Launch in desktop mode’, and you’ll be good to go! With desktop mode, you’re still able to move around and talk to people, either through the in-game chat or emotes, or through a microphone attachment.
However, there are a few things you should keep in mind when deciding between desktop and VR mode:
- While a keyboard and mouse work in VRChat, it controls as many other first-person games do. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it is something to keep in mind if you are looking for an immersive experience.
- Using a gamepad is also possible, but you may have to make some adjustments to the sensitivity settings, as keyboard and mouse setups are usually much more responsive than a normal game controller.
- Currently, it is not possible to move arms or hands whilst in desktop mode. Whilst some emotes and gestures have been added to keyboard commands, it is still a fraction of what is possible with VR headsets and controllers. If you’re a person who uses their hands and body language to communicate with people, you might find it a little off-putting to be standing in a server like a statue.
In short, not having a fancy VR headset like an Oculus Rift or Valve Index won’t stop you from playing VRChat. All you need is a decent computer/laptop, some kind of controller, whether that’s a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad, and you are ready to go.
VRChat is increasingly being used to be a social center for people to meet up and have a good time, whether they are close friends or complete strangers.
That’s not likely to stop any time soon, and as more people keep joining the platform every day, it’s only going to get more and more content and activities to do.
So what are you waiting for? Head over to www.vrchat.com, or Steam or Oculus, wherever you can find it, add it to your basket, download it, and have fun!